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TARTAN AMOEBAS "Imaginary Tartan Menagerie" IRCD 034

The Tartan Amoebas are another hard working band with possibly even a stranger name than the Old Blind Dogs. Where the Old Blind Dogs are firmly rooted in the folk scene, however, the Tartan Amoebas I would imagine would appeal to constituency somewhere between the folk, rock and university campus world. I do not know quite how to describe their music. It is certainly "up" and the kind of thing I would reach for in the mornings to get me going.

For those like myself who perhaps do not know the Amoebas, they are an instrumental band who, on this album, feature fiddle, highland bagpipes, guitars, bass, congas, percussion, tabla, drums, trumpet and trombone. They blend these instruments skillfully on a variety of numbers with titles ranging from "Ska Reggae" to "Penguin Blues" to "Briefcase Shuffle".

Their skill is heard at its highest on numbers such as "New Pipe Order". Opening with solo pipes this quickly proceeds to include pulsating guitar, and finally, horns. The horns are really zappy and life the whole thing onto a really driving plane reminding me of outfits like "Pigbag" from a decade or so ago. The band sound to have a lot of individual talents but sometimes it all gets a bit febrile as in the track "Road Rage" where it seems to me a ferment of ideas turns into a bit of an unholy mess.

On the other hand "I Close My Eyes" gets it right, starting off with doodling guitar, joined by fairly conspicuous bass both combining to provide an unobtrusive background to the languorous fiddle solo that ensues. To me this gave an indication of the power of the band and where it could go if it so chose. At this stage of its development though it seems like they are not ready to settle down to one or two specific directions and are all over the place. That's fine if they want to be a fun band and play around with varieties of interesting ideas. They already seem to have found their forte and I am sure an audience. It seems to me, however, that if they get beyond covering all the bases and firmly decide upon a direction, they could be capable of considerable things.

It seems a tragedy to me that some of the Scottish cinematic blockbusters that have been screened in the past year chose to use Irish music when there are writing and performing talents such as are in evidence on the higher points of this album. Whereas in all probability I will take this down from the shelf and give it the occasional play, I am not entirely besotted. However, I am sufficiently interested to check out if their development takes them down a more focused road in future. None of these reservations should cause them any concern as someone I work with, who has bought the album and raves over it, swears that I have cloth ears, and she may be right ...

Hector Chrisite

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This album was reviewed in Issue 14 of The Living Tradition magazine.